Reverse dieting is the single greatest way to restore your metabolism to its fullest potential.
Below you will find everything you need for incorporating reverse dieting into your nutrition program so that you can prime your metabolism for long-term fat loss.
Why Should You Be Reverse Dieting?
Tell me if this sounds like you: You’ve been trying to lose weight for a while now, and the weight loss starts off going really well.
Eventually though, it slows down or stops altogether. So you decide to cut your calories further or do more cardio, and while that works for a little while, your progress plateaus yet again.
This cycle is repeated until you are likely eating an absurdly low amount of calories and doing quite a bit of cardio. You probably feel worn down, hungry, achy, and have little energy in the gym.
Both your workout progress and weight loss have stalled.
The thought of cutting calories even further sounds like a nightmare. But you still have quite a bit of weight to lose.
None of this makes sense to you because eating less and exercising more is supposed to result in weight loss. So then, why is all this hard work not getting you results?
The Case for Reverse Dieting
The reason for your stalled progress is quite simple, actually. When you cut calories, however small your deficit might be, your metabolism begins to down-regulate.
In an effort to conserve its energy for survival, your body begins to manufacture less metabolism-friendly hormones like thyroid, testosterone, and leptin so that your body can reach homeostasis.
For a simple picture of how this happens, take a 500 calorie daily deficit. This is supposed to result in about a pound of weight loss per week. But that is not going to happen forever, or you would obviously wilt to nothing.
Along the way in the weight loss process your body begins to slow down its metabolism to conserve valuable energy (fat, glycogen). Eat at that original 500 calorie deficit long enough, and your weight loss will eventually level out and then stagnate.
Reverse dieting helps you restore your metabolism to a much higher level so that you have a better “base” to cut calories from.
Starting your weight loss at 2500 calories is going to leave you a lot more room to cut calories as compared to if you started off at 1800 calories.
The former will result in slower, yet more sustained weight loss over time. The latter will likely result in fast weight loss, quickly followed by stagnation, frustration, and then a falling into the yo-yo dieting trap.
Step 1: Calculating Your Calorie Target
This part is very easy.
Since reverse dieting is primarily concerned with speeding up your metabolism, you’ll always base your initial calorie target on what you’re currently eating.
So if you’ve just finished a cutting period, you’ll be basing your target on how many calories you were eating at the end of your cut.
Likewise, if you have been eating a very low number of calories for sometime – and have a depressed metabolism as a result – then you’ll be using the amount that you’re currently eating as the basis for your targets.
Now in order to calculate your initial calorie target, simply add 100-150 daily calories to what you’re eating at the moment.
So if you’ve been eating 1500 calories per day, on average, then you’ll start your reverse diet eating 1650 calories.
Step 2: Calculating Your Macro Targets
Now that I’ve discussed how to manage caloric intake while reverse dieting, the next step is to calculate your macros.
The specific macronutrients you eat (protein, fats, and carbs) are going to be very important when you reverse diet, if you want to increase the speed of your metabolism most efficiently.
Protein is absolutely essential for building and maintaining muscle – but surprisingly you actually don’t need as much protein when you’re reverse dieting as when you’re cutting.
I recommend that you get 1 gram of protein per lb of body weight each day when reverse dieting.
So if you currently weigh 180 lbs, then you would shoot for 180 grams of protein per day.
Fat will typically make up the smallest portion of your total calories, but it is still important to get enough, since it helps keep hormones like testosterone at healthy levels.
I recommend that fat make up between 20-30% of your total calories when reverse dieting.
To figure out your minimum fat target (in grams) simply multiply your calorie target by .2 to get the minimum number of fat calories you should be eating each day.
Then divide that number by 9 to get the minimum amount of fat in grams that you should be eating each day.
For example, if your daily calorie target is 1650, then your minimum fat target would be 37 grams per day (1650 x .2 = 330. 330/9 = 37).
To figure out your maximum fat target (in grams) simply multiply your calorie target by .3 to get the maximum number of fat calories you should be eating each day.
Then divide that number by 9 to get the maximum amount of fat in grams that you should be eating each day.
For example, if your daily calorie target is 1650, then your maximum fat target would be 55 grams per day (1650 x .3 = 495. 495/9 = 55).
Getting enough carbohydrates is very important when you’re reverse dieting – in fact, they should generally make up the largest percentage of your total calories.
This is because carbohydrates are what influence the regulation of certain hormones like leptin, which are what help control the speed of your metabolism.
After setting your protein and fat targets, carbohydrates should make up all of your remaining calories while reverse dieting (typically between 40-55% of your total calories).
Step 3: Putting It All Together
Now that you have your calorie target, and all of your macronutrient targets, let’s take a look at how it all comes together.
For example, in the case of a 1650 calorie target for your reverse diet, assuming you weigh 180 lbs, here is how each of the daily targets would look:
Calorie target: 1650 per day
Protein target: 180 grams per day
Fat target: 37-55 grams per day
Everything Else: Carbohydrates should fill in the remaining gap to hit your calorie target, after satisfying your protein and fat targets. If you have any alcohol, it should be included in this category, taking away from your total carbs for that day.
I should also point out that these 4 targets are listed in order of importance.
So this means you should focus on meeting your calorie goal as your number 1 priority, followed by your protein goal, etc.
Foods To Eat While Reverse Dieting
Now as we’ve been over before, the specific foods that you eat when following aflexible dieting approach are completely up to you!
To be clear, the specific foods you eat won’t make any difference to muscle gains or body fat, as long as you are hitting your calorie and macro targets each day.
However, the specific foods you eat do matter in terms of micronutrients (vitamins/minerals), and also how you feel in general (energy levels, hunger, etc).
For this reason, I recommend following an 80/20 split as much as possible for general health reasons.
That is, you should aim to have roughly 80% of your calories come from ‘clean’ foods (meats, vegetables, fruits, cheeses, yogurt, nuts, beans, rice, pasta, bread) – and the remaining 20% can come from less ‘clean’ foods (processed, desserts, etc).
This gives you some leeway to regularly work in desserts/fun foods, as long as they fit into your targets for the day.
Also, while reverse dieting, you’ll often want to prioritize foods that are high in volume compared to calories, since these foods will help keep you feeling full for longer.
This means foods like lean meats, vegetables, beans, and potatoes are particularly good choices, since they will fill you up more on fewer calories, making it easier to stick to your plan.
At the end of the day, though, you should know that you always have the flexibility to eat any type of food, as long as you can make it fit into your calorie and macro targets for the day.
Getting Started With Your Reverse Diet
Now you have everything you need to begin your reverse diet and start speeding up your metabolism!
Remember, the goal is to maintain the same weight while steadily increasing your calories each week, until you reach your new TDEE.
If you try to increase calories too quickly, then you can risk putting on weight, so stick to the 100-150 daily increases per week.
Going forward, you should log what you eat each day in your favorite food logging app, trying to hit these daily targets as closely as possible.
This can take a bit of trial and error, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not perfect with it right away.
However, after a couple weeks, you should find you’re hitting your targets more and more consistently each day. Like anything, it just takes a bit of practice.
When reverse dieting, you’ll ideally be increasing your calories every single week until you find the highest number of calories that you are able to eat and maintain your current weight.
To do this, you should weigh yourself each week while you’re reverse dieting.
If you weigh the same amount (or less), then you should increase your daily calories by another 100-150.
If you weigh more, then you should keep at the same level for another week, before weighing yourself again.
The goal here is to gradually increase your metabolism, so that you are able to maintain your body weight at a higher caloric level.
If you go too fast, increasing by say 500 calories, then you risk putting on weight/fat.
However, if you increase your calories very gradually, by only 100-150 per week, then you should be able to increase your metabolism roughly in proportion to the calorie increases so that your weight stays the same.
This is why weighing yourself each week at the same time under the same conditions is extremely important.
It is what gives you the information you need to make sensible adjustments to your targets if you need to.
Each week you’ll do your weigh-in on the same day and record your weight for that week.
For most guys I don’t recommend weighing yourself every day, since this causes unnecessary stress, and you’ll find that day-to-day weight fluctuations aren’t very important.
Instead, keep it to once per week. Choose a day and be consistent with it – and then make sure you weigh yourself first thing in the morning, before you eat or drink anything, and after you pee, to make each weigh-in as accurate as possible.
Working Out While Reverse Dieting
When you’re reverse dieting, it is important that you are also strength training with heavy weights.
This is because weight training is another factor that can help to speed up your metabolism.
Since you’ll be getting more calories than usual, and returning certain hormones to more normal levels, you’ll often find that you feel stronger during your workouts than you did when you were cutting, or eating at a lower calorie level.
Take advantage of this and really focus on increasing your strength in the gym as much as possible during your reverse diet.
You should strive to add reps or weight for most of your exercises each week, if possible.
How Long Should You Reverse Diet For?
Typically you should continue to reverse diet until you have reached a calorie level that has you gaining weight for 2 consecutive weeks.
Once you’ve hit that level, you’ll have found the point where increasing calories further will cause you to put on weight.
However, you should also have increased the speed of your metabolism considerably, so that you are now able to maintain weight consuming a greater number of calories.
At this point, you’ll have 3 options – you can choose to bulk, cut, or just maintain your current weight at this higher caloric level.
If you don’t have much muscle mass yet, but are already lean (10% body fat or under), then you should transition to a bulking diet.
On the other hand, if you have a higher level of body fat (15% or over), then you should transition to a cutting diet.
Finally, if you’ve reached a level of muscle and body fat that you’re happy with – or just don’t feel like cutting or bulking at the moment – then you can just continue eating at this higher level of calories, and maintaining your current body weight.
What was your experience like with reverse dieting? Leave a comment below.